I’ve been curious about Trump’s pathological lying since when his lies spun out of control. I’ve had conversations about it with my fellow psychotherapists. None of use could really figure it out. Could it be that he really believed the lies as they flowed out of his mouth? Now there’s a possible answer. A new scientific study suggests that the more a person lies the more their brain accepts the lie as true.
This morning Vox had an intriguing piece titled “How do politicians get so comfortable with lying?”
The just published study (right) described in the Vox article explains this as “emotional adaptation.”
It’s similar to what happens when you’re exposed to a strong smell. At first the smell is extremely noticeable, but eventually you stop noticing it as much. With time, any stimulus — a loud noise, a strong perfume, etc. — is likely to provoke a smaller response. The same goes with lying.
In summary, Tali Sharot, a University College London neuroscientist, an author of the study said:
“Arousal is one of the telltales of lying,” Sharot said. It can take the form of sweating and faster heart rate — what polygraph machines look for to detect lies. So if the brain is less aroused by lying, that might mean a person is getting used to it. “If arousal goes down, people may be less likely to catch you in a lie,” Sharot said.
This study offers a possible explanation to the quandary I wrote about in my story, “Analyzing Trump’s Lies” the other day:
Okay, then what about the whole pathological liar accusations and descriptions we hear applied to Trump?
You may be surprised to learn that there’s no psychiatric diagnosis for this. This is from Psychiatric Times, 2008. “Pathological Lying: Symptom or Disease?” by Charles C. Dike, MD, MPH, MRCPsych
Pathological lying (PL) is a controversial topic. There is, as yet, no consensus in the psychiatric community on its definition, although there is general agreement on its core elements. PL is characterized by a long history (maybe lifelong) of frequent and repeated lying for which no apparent psychological motive or external benefit can be discerned. While ordinary lies are goal-directed and are told to obtain external benefit or to avoid punishment, pathological lies often appear purposeless. In some cases, they might be self-incriminating or damaging, which makes the behavior even more incomprehensible. Despite its relative obscurity, PL has been recognized and written about in the psychiatric literature for more than a century. The German physician, Anton Delbruck,1 is credited with being the first to describe the concept of PL. He observed that some of his patients told lies that were so abnormal and out of proportion that they deserved a special category. He sub-sequently described the lies as "pseu- dologia phantastica."
My psychotherapy training was psychodynamic and psychoanalytically oriented. But Freud himself began as a student of neurology, studying the brain, not the mind. His greatest discovery, the one that its him on the short list of the world’s greatest thinkers, was of the unconscious, or of the id, ego, and superego.
But even Freud said that he thought that in time major revelations about how the mind worked would come from studies of how the brain worked.
Now with the amazing advances in brain imaging beyond CT scans: functional-MRI’s, PET Scans, Magnetoencephalography (MEG), NIRS (near infrared spectroscopy), a new field of studying the way the brain works has opened.
Here’s an article from the Aug. 25, 2015 Atlantic about this. (see right)
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